Squash Dynasty

 

Sakhi Kahn is the latest in a very long line of champions

By Alicia Nemiccolo MacLeay '97
 

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Sakhi Khan, head coach of Colby's men's and women's squash teams, is no slouch on the court. As a junior player Khan was ranked number one in the United States. While at Tufts he was a four-time All-American, consistently ranked in the top three nationally, won the Massachusetts State Championship three times and reached the NCAA Championship finals. After college Khan competed on the World Professional Tour for seven years, represented the United States in the Pan Am Games and won the World Teaching Professional Championships twice.

Taken alone, Khan's success and lifelong dedication to squash are impressive accomplishments. But take a look at Khan's family tree and they seem almost routine , for a Khan.

It's called the Khan Squash Dynasty by squash enthusiasts, and Sakhi Khan is a fourth-generation member. The dynasty started in the Khyber Pass region of what is now Pakistan when the British raj built squash courts for British officers across the street from the home of Khan's great-grandfather Abdul Khan. Abdul became the club's ball boy and court sweeper, started swinging the racquet around and picked up the game. "There was money to be had giving lessons and being around squash," said Khan. So Abdul began giving lessons to officers and eventually introduced the sport to his own family.

A familial pursuit would turn into world domination with Khan's great-uncle Hashim. In the 1950s Hashim won squash's oldest and most prestigious tournament, the British Open, seven times, then a record. "He made squash a national sport in Pakistan," said Khan. And it wasn't just Hashim ruling the court. Hashim's brother Azam won the tournament four times, and in the 13 British Opens between 1951 and 1963 five different Khans occupied 22 of the 26 finalist spots.

In the 1980s Khan's uncle Jahangir achieved what may be the most impressive streak in sports-500 straight wins over five years and eight months. (After that streak-ending loss he went another nine months without a defeat.) He also won the British Open for 10 consecutive years-another Khan record.

"This was a whole different type of culture," said Khan of his family's dedication. "When they stuck to one thing they did it for generations."

Mohibullah, Khan's father and the 1963 world champion, helped promote squash in North America. That year, when Khan was a year old, Mohibullah traveled from Pakistan to give a squash exhibition at the Pentagon. In attendance was President Kennedy, who was so impressed that he invited Mohibullah to become the Harvard Club's resident teaching pro.

"Of course, a president made a request, my father definitely wanted to do that," said Khan. Khan has no memory of his family's arrival in Boston or the presidential escort to the Harvard Club. But he knows his father's dedication to squash was typical of the Khans.

Khan has been involved in most facets of squash-as an amateur and professional player, a teaching pro, tournament organizer and now coach. "Every single day I come to work and it's different and that's what I really love about it," said Khan of coaching two college teams (men's and women's) simultaneously. He took the Colby position in 2001 because he wanted a job where he could stay involved with squash and spend more time with his young children. He now has five, ages 11 years to 10 months, whom he enjoys taking out on the court. He puts no pressure on them to pursue squash, though. "Unlike the generations before me, they have a choice," said Khan.

One thing that has always set the Khans apart-and that Khan is now passing on to his Colby players-is the importance of physical and mental fitness. Khan says his players know they're going to run hard and play hard in every match. "Squash, from beginning to end, it's pressure," he said. "It's continual intensity. I like that."

Khan's goal is to have the men's and women's teams ranked between nine and 12 nationally each year. He's already halfway there. In 2003 the women finished with a national ranking of 11, their highest ever. The men finished at 18.

His other goal is to market squash to faculty, staff, students and "every single person I see."

"My obligation is not just to Colby, but it's really to the sport," said Khan. "My family has been ambassadors to squash for generations."